ASTON VILLA are set to step up their interest in Britt Assombalonga, with Dean Smith having identified the Middlesbrough forward as one of his leading contenders to replace stricken striker Wesley Moraes.

Jonathan Woodgate will sign off on one high-profile departure in the next 24 hours, with Darren Randolph having spent yesterday finalising his £4m return to West Ham United, but the Boro head coach remains adamant he does not want to lose Assombalonga, who is set to return from an ankle injury within the next two weeks.

However, the Aston Villa hierarchy will test his resolve by tabling a formal offer for the 27-year-old, who broke Boro’s transfer record when he made a £15m move from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2017.

Villa’s transfer activity assumed a heightened sense of importance at the start of the month when Wesley was ruled out for the rest of the season with knee ligament damage.

Smith’s initial response was to approach Chelsea about Michy Batshuayi, but Frank Lampard is determined to keep the Belgian at Stamford Bridge for the second half of the season.

As a result, Villa’s recruitment team have been forced to look elsewhere, with Assombalonga having emerged as a leading target.

The Boro striker has suffered an injury-hit first half of the season, but still boasts six goals from 20 Championship appearances, having topped the club’s scoring charts with 16 goals in all competitions last term.

He has 18 months of his current contract remaining, and as one of the highest-paid players on Boro’s books, it could be argued it would make sense to sell this month

However, Woodgate does not want to lose Assombalonga as he does not want to be left with Ashley Fletcher, Rudy Gestede and the recently-signed Lukas Nmecha as his only senior strikers.

“When Britt is fit, he is 100 per cent part of my plans,” said Woodgate, when asked about Assombalonga’s position as his press conference at the end of last week. “Britt went to see a specialist (on Thursday) on his ankle, he may be out for ten days to two weeks’ time.

“Britt hasn’t been pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, so believe me on that one. He’s tried to train five times and struggled with it. It’s good to have four strikers, look at all the top teams.”

Randolph’s departure is hardly a surprise, with the Irishman rejoining West Ham two-and-a-half years after he left the club in a £5m move to Teesside.

He has been one of Boro’s most consistent performers in the last couple of seasons, but Aynsley Pears’ seamless progression to the first team has reduced his importance and enabled Boro officials to cash in.

He will deputise for Lukasz Fabianski at the London Stadium, and is clearly confident his return to the role of a number two will not adversely affect his hopes of representing the Republic of Ireland in March’s Euro2020 play-offs

There could be further movement out of Boro in the next few days with the Teessiders set to curtail Sam Stubbs’ loan spell at Scottish Premier League side Hamilton Academicals in order to send him to Dutch club ADO Den Haag.

Stubbs has made 19 SPL appearances for Hamilton this season, but Boro’s coaching staff want to expose him to as many different experiences as possible and have been contacted by new Den Haag boss Alan Pardew.

The former Newcastle manager is keen to sign Stubbs on a season-long loan, and the move would make financial sense for Boro as Den Haag would pay a higher proportion of the youngster’s wages than Hamilton.

Boro have also recalled Mitchell Curry from his loan spell with Inverness.